BY OKEY ONYEWEAKU

Strong indications have emerged that President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari, who will take over governance effectively from May 29, 2015 may have decided to beam his searchlight on major institutions of government to make them fit into his agenda for the nation. Hallmark learnt authoritatively that one of the institutions to get the prompt attention of the new government is the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.

According to sources, the incoming government may have decided to restructure the CBN and streamline its operations to make it more effective and focused. Feelers coming from insiders of the new government suggest that the regime will most likely run a lean structure to reduce waste from duplication of agencies and functions. The source hinted that the CBN has become so unwieldy and lacks focus, which has adversely affected its effectiveness.

For a regime that wants to impress the people, pieces of advice have emerged from different quarters that its success depends on its ability to reduce recurrent expenditure. Already speculations are strong in the air that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt practices Commission (ICPC) may be combined as one.

Already, palpable fear has pervaded many Ministries and parastatals  as workers are deeply uncomfortable that the incoming government may exercise some surgical operation in many of them to cut costs, and probably sack them.

But it is being discussed in hush tones in high and privileged quarters that restructuring the apex Bank may be given priority over others because of its strategic importance to the growth and development of the country.

Before now, there have been some misgivings that the lender of last resort has gone beyond its constitutional brief to take up functions which are specifically for fiscal authorities.

The main functions of the CBN, experts say include ensuring monetary and price stability; issue legal tender currency in Nigeria; maintain external reserves to safeguard the international value of the legal tender currency; promote a sound financial system in Nigeria, and act as Banker and provide economic and financial advice to the Federal Government among other monetary management responsibilities.

‘In addition to its core functions, CBN has over the years performed some major developmental functions, focused on all the key sectors of the Nigerian economy (financial, agricultural and industrial sectors). Overall, these mandates are carried out by the Bank through its various departments”, CBN said in its website

However, one expert, who pleaded anonymity, explained that the CBN now exercises certain fiscal power, such as a manipulative policy instrument which should ordinarily be in the hands of government to achieve macro-economic objectives.

Whereas managing monetary affairs are the core functions of the apex Bank, during Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s reign as CBN Governor, many analysts observed that the CBN went overboard to tackle issues that would statutorily be for the fiscal segment of the economy.

 For instance, the Presidency suspended Sanusi as helmsman of CBN alleging that he had engaged in what it described as unprecedented politicisation of his office as well as serial infractions of regulations governing the operations of the central bank. Sanusi had undertaken some financial interventions in some sectors of the economy, such as aviation, SME and textiles, without approval from government.

 The allegations had it that the presidency was worried by the way and manner Sanusi was donating money to communities and institutions in the name of the central bank without adherence to due process and regard for the multi-cultural diversities of the Nigerian nation.

The  former CBN boss was accused of donating about N150 billion to some institutions and interest groups in states controlled by opposition political parties in what appears to be a clever way of channelling state funds to some politicians who in turn used them to attack the president and his government.

According to the presidency source Sanusi gave some of the questionable donations to include N4 billion to Bayero University, Kano; N10 billion to Uthman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto; N500 million to the University of Benin, Benin; and N100 million to the Kano State Government during flood disaster.

Some of these donations were considered inappropriate and were thought to be outside the powers and functions of the CBN.   Of course, the actions of the CBN under Sanusi also received a lot of criticisms given his far reaching steps to pay more attention to economic development to the detriment of monetary management.

Efforts to reach the CBN spokesman Mallam Ibrahim Mua’zu proved abortive as phone calls could not go through and text messages were not responded to.

Recently, Dr.Kayode Fayemi, who is director of policy and strategy in Buhari Campaign Organisation, and represented Buhari at a forum in Lagos Business School, said government machinery would be a case of  ”the leaner the better” explaining that some agencies, parastatals or ministries that have similar functions may be merged to become one in a positively solidified arrangement.

This development,  many industry analysts believe may be a way of partially adopting the recommendations of the Steve Oronsaye Committee report which supports the scrapping of 102 statutory agencies from the current 263, abolition of 38 agencies, merger of 52 and reversion of 14 to departments in the ministries.

 The 800-page report also recommended the discontinuation of government funding of professional bodies and councils.

Buhari who is seemingly disposed to reducing the cost of governance has always been known as a hard liner when it comes to running a lean government and implementing austerity measures.

 ”In 1984, under the then head of state, MuhammaduBuhari’s administration, another 3,000 civil servants were sacked for laziness, idleness, lack of initiative, lateness to office, absenteeism and inefficiency”.